Someone called Jilly’s name, then the name of her band, Four Girls on Fire. At first, she thought she was dreaming – they’d just won the nation’s biggest talent show all over again, and from now on, life was going to be really amazing! - then her stomach turned over.
She disengaged herself from Rob, got out of bed and went to the window. Bloody hell, yes, down in the narrow cobbled street that fronted the guest-house. Paparazzi, sixteen or seventeen of them, all men, full of last night’s chip fat and strip-club testosterone, leering up at the net curtain like they could see through it. She swallowed.
The other girls had warned her about dating a member of a boy band, but only tongue in cheek. Twice the publicity, babes, sure you can handle that? She couldn’t help herself, though. Two years ago he’d been her hero and she’d been a nobody. Now they were equals.
“They’ve found us,” she told him.
Rob stretched and yawned. He discarded the bedclothes, picked up his boxer shorts and put his foot in one leg. “The press?”
“You don’t seem very bothered.”
“You were bloody brilliant last night, Jilly.”
“How did they know we were here?”
“I mean it. Outstanding.”
She realised she didn’t even like him much. “Did you tell them?”
“Wake up, Rob! It’s the press! I said the press have found us!”
He pulled on his boxers and put his arms round her. She disengaged herself, plonked herself at the dressing table and brushed her long brown hair, pulling halfway down as if it was full of knots. She was trying to stop herself shaking.
“Anyone could have told them,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t me, babe.”
“Put your clothes on. We’re leaving.”
“Why? They can’t get in here.”
She fished her bra from the pile of clothes on the floor and put it on. “We’re in the bloody Lake District, Rob. We’re supposed to be miles from anywhere. How did they find us so quickly?”
She looked round the room: the plaid curtains, the beds with valances, the 1920s lampshades, all the varnished wooden surfaces, so unlike the places she always stayed when she was touring with the girls. She’d fallen in love with it at first sight. She’d been drunk, true, but she’d never wanted to leave.
Rob pulled his socks and T-shirt on then looked at her. “You’re not frightened, are you?”
“They’ve probably got the place surrounded. And yes. Yes, I am frightened.”
“We’ll just call a taxi. We can be downstairs and in the car before anyone knows it.”
“I’m not bothered about us, Rob. I’m bothered about them.” Tights, tights, where were her bloody tights?
“Yeah, ‘them’. The photographers, journalists, whatever they call themselves. Them!”
He laughed. “First time anyone’s cared what happens to paparazzi. Anyway, what could happen to them?”
“Haven’t you been watching the news recently? Are you really that self-obsessed?”
“Hey, now - ”
“Four photographers shot dead in four weeks. Following Bobby Keynes, Zane Cruse, Mikey from Bad Lads Zero, Stallone Laine - ”
“No such thing as bad publicity, from what I hear. Not that you need it, girl, but it won’t hurt. Besides, they’re all douche bags, right?”
She pulled her dress on and smoothed the waist. She’d had enough now. She wanted out. Of everything. “I misjudged you, Rob. They’re still human beings.”
“No, they ain’t. Anyway, what are the chances?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
He picked up the telephone. “Is that reception? Hi, yeah … Room …”
“Fourteen,” Jilly said.
“Fourteen. Could you get a taxi pronto for me and the shorty? And fetch us the bill for the room? … Yeah, we’re leaving … Yeah, all good things have to come to an end sooner or later … Yeah, we’re disappointed too.” He put his hand over the receiver. “She knows us,” he told Jilly. “It’ll be her that told the reporters.”
He put the phone down. “About fifteen minutes. Get your face on, gorgeous.”
“I’m not waiting for her taxi to come, Rob. Not if she’s with them. I’ll get my own. There’s a rank down the road. Come on.”
“What about your make-up?”
She rammed a pair of sunglasses on and picked up her travel bag. He followed her downstairs. They didn’t stop at reception. Rob reached into his wallet, pulled out four fifties and thrust them at Mrs whatever-she-was-called, the proprietress. “Keep the change.”
Suddenly, they were out on the street. Paparazzi to their right, shouting Jilly. Jilly take off your shades, Jilly flick your hair, Jilly wave, Jilly smile, Jilly stop, who’s that with Jilly, that’s Rob from Simply Boyz, Rob give us a smile, Rob –
She took off her glasses, grabbed Rob’s hand and turned left and accelerated. She almost changed direction. There was a loud crack and she jumped like she’d been hit.
Behind them, the paparazzi roared. One of them – a photographer, about twenty-five - lay prostrate and bloody. Four others photographed him, ten or twelve were in full flight, one was trying to get a signal on his mobile. No one was interested in Jilly and Rob any more.
Rob looked at them then at her. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
Jilly started screaming.
Genre – Espionage Thriller
Rating – PG
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